Friday, September 9, 2011

A Trip Overseas!

Sometimes the last minute plans turn out to be the best, and this was certainly the case with last weekend.   I was out fishing with my cousin when I got a text from Gavin (Murray) asking if I fancied a trip to Northern Ireland with him for the Irish Open and British Championship.   Never one to turn down such an opportunity I quickly agreed.   Although plans changed several times I eventually found myself waiting for him on the side of the A14 ready for the drive to the ferry at Birkenhead.
Once on the ferry it was time for a meal and a few drinks before retiring to a cabin that can only be described as ‘an oven’ for the next eight hours until we docked in Belfast at six the following morning.   Four of us cramped into a cabin just over the size of a postage stamp with a shower in one corner and a pointless chair occupying most of the floor was a touch cramped to say the least!
Once on the other side it was off the ferry and then following the Hairds and Simpsons we headed off to Antrim to pass the day before racing that evening.   With everyone else having hotel rooms, Gav and I took the money-saving route and opted to stay in his truck in the hotel car park - whilst making full use of the hotel’s bar facilities!   With a whole day to kill before racing we headed off with the Simpsons to the shops to pass a bit of time.  Now I’m sure most of you will agree that neither Gavin or myself are really the ‘shopping kind’, and after about half an hour, a cup of coffee and a new pair of jeans we were both bored and started walking back up the road towards the lorry.
Having never been to Northern Ireland before I had no idea what to expect at the tracks and was pretty shocked when we arrived at Ballymena to find a football game just finishing up!   From my vantage point in the stand it looked like a very unforgiving track with no room for error.   Probably best I wasn’t racing!   It was one of those nights where you just knew the weather wasn’t going to play ball.   Gavin’s crew for the weekend were his father Graham, Graham’s friend Linda and ‘yours truly’, so we all set about getting everything sorted for the racing to begin.   After a couple of minor setbacks we were good to go and Gav got himself lined up for the first heat.
In truth luck just wasn’t going to be with him at all over the weekend and he found himself starting smack bang in the middle for heat one.   Due to the reverse grid for heat two it would find him once again starting in exactly the same place!  Even with a strange track and some pretty random conditions he had two strong drives and racked up a 14th and a 9th in the two heats.   These results left him starting 13th on the grid in the Irish Open, and after a cracking drive he saw himself crossing the finish line in 8th, the car having come really good at the end of the race.   Glenn Bell had been in a league of his own all night and was a very deserving winner, and his doughnuts after the flag were among the most impressive I’ve ever seen. 
Saturday night saw us heading back to the hotel for a few drinks and some fish and chips in the lorry! There was a wedding in full swing when we got back and as the evening wore on it was team Simpson, Gavin and myself left in the lounge representing the oval racing world in the drinking!  We retired back to hotel Renault at about with surprisingly clear heads.   I mention this as  Gav and I have got into some pickles before after a few beers . . . .
Sunday morning saw us up and about early for breakfast then off to Tommy and Terry Maxwell’s to get the cars ready for the afternoon.   As soon as you get around the docks then over into Ireland every other truck seems to have Maxwell Freight Services emblazoned down the side.   We counted ten trailers just looking out from the bar on the ferry!   I jumped in the car with Tommy and had the tour with him as we headed to his yard with the Hairds, Simpsons and team Murray all behind in their trucks.   You really are a very good tour guide Tommy - don’t worry, I didn’t record what you were saying...
With the diffs changed and the cars ready it was off to Nutts Corner for the British Championship.   It was dry-ish when we arrived and Gav was soon out practising.   Now from where I was standing, this looks to me like an awesome track and as I watched him going round, I really wished the #27 machine was out there with them.   By the time the first race was due to start the weather had changed and it was raining.   Everyone was on slicks and the track was quite slippery.    After a brilliant drive Gavin crossed the line in second.   It was definitely full wets for the next race as the weather had got worse and after a spin in the first lap Gav followed it up with another cracking drive through to 9th.
By the time the final arrived the weather was worse still and I can honestly say standing watching that race is probably the wettest I have ever been.   Gav was 5th on the grid, inside, 3rd row.   Now as a lot of you know I don’t normally watch racing but I was literally clinging on to the fence shouting for him as loud as I could throughout the whole race.   This mixed with Graham and Linda shouting and the Simpsons stood next to us cheering for Matt who was almost glued to Gavin’s bumper must have led to everyone else being temporarily deafened!
25 laps into the race Gav was running 3rd, and as an accident unfolded taking John Christie out of the lead Gav found himself leading at the restart.   The car had been flying up until this point and with 15 laps to go at the green flag the car just went off completely.   Unfortunately Gav lost a couple of places and was later forced to retire.   A total bummer but a brilliant drive nevertheless.
Well done to Malcolm on the win, Stewart on his second and my old bud Jason “2-litre” Kew on his third.   Jest as I might he did pull off some pretty epic moves whilst out in the 2-litre!
From the track it was straight back to the ferry to catch the night boat back to Liverpool.   A few vodkas as we left made me realise just what a good weekend it had actually been.   I’ve never been anywhere where I have felt so welcome and I’d like to go back next year with my car.   I was really surprised by the amount of people who came up and said they read this every week, so thanks for putting up with my ranting!
I could tell you so many stories from the weekend . . . involving such things as broad beans and diesel . . . but definitely not printable in this family publication!   All in all it was an absolutely brilliant weekend, a great laugh and a new experience.    Thanks Gav and ‘Team Murray’ for inviting me.
I’ll be at Yarmouth on Sunday wearing a #95 shirt again and then I’ll be back out myself at Foxhall on the 24th Sept.
Thanks as ever for reading and thanks Northern Ireland for the craic.        
Until next time.

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